The treaty of San Stefano and the Congress of Berlin
The Albanian situation during the Eastern Crisis
During the break up of the Ottoman Empire and the Eastern Crisis, the Albanians refused to participate in the fight against neighbouring peoples on the side of the Porte, however places inhabited by Albanians were of interest to neighbouring countries and their ideas of territorial expansion. The Albanian position was particularly complicated as some of the Great Powers (Austro-Hungary and Italy) showed direct pretensions towards Albanian territories while others (Russia) supported neighbouring countries in their territorial aspirations.
In Mirdita, during 1876-1877, an anti-Ottoman revolution started. This revolution was crushed by Ottoman forces and failed to spread into other areas populated by Albanians, but it showed that the Albanian people could not be ignored in projects regarding the new order in the Balkans.
The Russian-Turkish war and the San Stefano peace treaty
In 1877 Russia attacked the Ottoman Empire, thus starting the Russian-Turkish war. This war contributed to the weakening of the Ottoman Empire rule in the Balkans and enabled part of the Balkan people to realize their requests for autonomous national states.
The Russian forces very quickly came near Istanbul, while the Serbian and Montenegrin forces began military actions against the Ottoman Empire fighting through areas inhabited by Albanians (the vilayets of Kosovo and Skadar). Greece joined these activities, and by supporting the anti-Ottoman revolution of the Epirus volunteers in Southern Albania attempted to join this area to its territories.
The Ottoman Empire lost the war and was forced to sign a treaty with Russia on the 3rd of March, 1878. According to that agreement, known as the Treaty of San Stefano (named for the place where it was signed), the Ottoman Empire lost most of its Balkan territories, and Serbia, Montenegro, Romania and Bulgaria became independent countries. The treaty does not mention Albanians at all and the areas inhabited by Albanians were either divided amongst the newly created neighbouring countries (Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro) or remained under Ottoman rule.
The territorial changes incited protest from the Albanian people, who expressed a clear readiness to resist the decisions. This led to the creation of committees and regional and interregional bodies. It was under these circumstances that the activities of the Albanian National Movement (towards a complete independence for Albania) began. Towards the end of 1877 key Albanian figures gathered in Istanbul and formed a national organisation that was meant to represent the interests of all Albanians. The organisation was called “The Central Committee for the Protection of Albanian National Rights”, also known as the Constantinopole Committee. It consisted of intellectuals from all the regions inhabited by Albanians - Abdil Frasheri was elected as its head.
Other European states were also displeased with the Treaty of San Stefano (which gave Russia enormous power) as they saw it as a threat to them and their interests, so they called a congress in Berlin in June 1878.
Founding of the League of Prizren, its demands and first activities
The Treaty of San Stefano and the confirmation of a date for the Congress of Berlin strengthened activities towards the creation of a political and military organisation that would unite the Albanian movement. As a result, on the 10th of June 1878 in Prizren, a decision was made to create an organisation with political and military function called the “League of Prizren”. The founding meeting was attended by representatives of all the areas inhabited by Albanians; after the creation of the league additional regional sections were founded in all these areas (e.g. in the Skopje sanjak, which was run by Jashar Beg). Even with its first acts, the League of Prizren took over some of the governance functions of the Sublime Porte, thereby starting the process towards an autonomous Albanian state.
The Prizren Gathering announced to the great powers the determination of the Albanian people to prevent the division of the territories they lived on. The league adopted a programme containing sections to unite the vilayets where Albanians lived into a single vilayet, as well as to create an autonomous Albanian state. The programme included forming administration for the League, as well as creating autonomous organs that would collect taxes and organs responsible for peace keeping (military forces of the “United Vilayets” and a police force).
The Congress of Berlin decisions and the Albanian reactions
The Congress of Berlin completely revised the Treaty of San Stefano and the status of the Ottoman Empire was jointly decided by European forces. With the new decisions the Ottoman Empire lost most of its European territories, Russia's influence was decreased, the powers of Austro-Hungary and Great Britain were increased and the newly formed Balkan states received much smaller territories than envisaged with the Treaty of San Stefano.
The Congress of Berlin decisions treated Albania solely as a geographical term and the territories inhabited by Albanians were divided amongst several states. This decision was not acceptable for the Albanians. The countries making the decisions were aware of this so, in August 1878, Mehmed Ali Pasha was sent to the territory of Albania to convince them to surrender these territories. This initiative was opposed by the League and in the clashes at Gjakovica Mehmed Ali Pasha was killed.
Resistance was shown through a number of protests organised in this period. A delegation, consisting of Abdil Frasheri and Mexhmed Ali Vrioni, was formed that was meant to represent the Albanians before the great powers. There were a number of clashes with the neighbouring states (particularly Montenegro) with the aim to prevent the dispersion of territories inhabited by Albanians.
Activities towards founding the Albanian state
In November 1878 a Session was held in Debar at which a program including demands for autonomy was accepted. Even though the Sublime Porte did not publicly oppose these demands, it delayed the response.
The Leagues demands for autonomy were supported by the Albanian people. As a result of the Congress of Debar all the towns where the League was active formed League courts. For example, in Skopje there were double courts (Ottoman and League) and the populace had a right to choose which court to go to. A large number of people chose the League courts.
From the memorandum of 13 June 1878 on the need to create an autonomous Albanian state and against the division of Albanians, as expressed by a high ranking British official:
“... They express hope that their demands will be considered at the Congress, even though they are the only nation without a representative. Despite all the difficulties, the Albanians have kept their independence, traits, traditions and their native language and hate not only the Turks that govern them but also any other [governing parties] that are foreign to them, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim.”
Source: Ramiz Abduli – The Albanian League of Prizren in British sources, II, Prishtina, 2004, p40 [in Albanian].
In December 1880 the vilayet of Kosovo began armed actions against the Sublime Porte administration. Only those supporting the programme that demanded autonomy participated in these activities. The Assembly removed from the governing organs of the League those against autonomy and declared the National Committee of the League. Imer Prizreni was declared president of the temporary government. The temporary government organised regular military and police forces and established new Albanian administration in the areas that were liberated. Organs of the temporary government of the League were created in key places.
In response to these activities, the Sublime Porte organised a large military expedition that suppressed the League forces and ultimately broke it up by occupying Prizren, which held the seat of the temporary government. After the break up of the League of Prizren, the Ottoman Empire formed military courts in which thousands of Albanians, intellectuals and fighters of the League were sentenced to prison or exiled to distant areas of the Empire.
THE ALBANIAN ANTI-OTTOMAN REVOLUTION OF 1912 AND THE BALKAN WARS
The Albanian anti-Ottoman revolution of 1912
After the break up of the League of Prizren, anti-Ottoman revolutions of local characters continued. Considering that there was no coordination centre for them they were easily suppressed by the Ottoman forces.
The participation of the Albanians in the success of the Young Turk Revolution and the revolutions in the 1910-1911 period were an important step towards renewing the Albanian National Movement. At the same time they enabled the Albanian issue to be prominent not only as a Balkan problem, but also as a European problem that needed to be solved.
These were the conditions under which preparations began for a widespread anti-Ottoman revolution. On one hand, work began on forming a single coordination centre, while on the other, the parliamentary fight to realise national demands was continued by Albanian representatives in the Ottoman Empire governance structures. On the 11th of January 1912 Hasan Prishtina held a speech before parliament in which he warned the Ottoman government that, if the Albanian national demands were not met, a revolution would start in Albania and that he, personally, would lead it.
In the beginning of 1912, during the work of the Parliament, a meeting was held with members of parliament of all the areas inhabited by Albanians. After this meeting, at the gathering of key figures of Albanian political life, a decision was made to start a widespread revolution. In order to increase the chances for success of the revolution, the Albanian national movement began negotiations with the other nations still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Part of these negotiations were talks with IMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation) and the attempt to achieve cooperation with the Macedonians.
Armed conflict between Albanian and Ottoman forces quickly spread in the four vilayets inhabited by Albanians (Kosovo, Bitola, Ioanina and Skadar). After unsuccessful negotiations between the revolutionaries and representatives of the Ottoman government it was decided that the revolution should spread towards Skopje. The revolutionaries set 14 demands, but these were rejected by the Sublime Porte. This led to the climax of the revolution, when thousands of revolutionaries and their leaders liberated Skopje from the Ottoman forces. At the negotiations led in Skopje the representatives of the Ottoman Empire accepted 12 of the 14 demands.
The declaration of an independent Albanian state
The implementation of the accepted demands was delayed as the attention of the Ottoman government was focused on the new coalition created by the Balkan states – a potential danger to the Empire. The states that entered the Balkan coalition (Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro) planned to attack the Ottoman Empire and conquer its remaining Balkan territories. These plans included conquering the territories inhabited by Albanians. The plans of the Balkan states were supported by Russia, which hoped to strengthen its Balkan influence in this way.
In October 1912 the Balkan states declared war on the Ottoman Empire. In a very short period of time they beat the Ottoman forces at all fronts and began to go deeper into territories inhabited by Albanians. The Serbian forces went into the areas of what is today north-east Albania and Kosovo, the Montenegrin force went into the territories of Skadar and the Greek forces occupied Epirus. Wherever the military of the Balkan coalition marched the unprotected Albanian population suffered at their hands.
This incited some of the leaders of the Albanian National movement to undertake new activities geared towards the representatives of the Great Powers. At a gathering in Skopje they accepted a declaration that was handed over to the local consulates. In it they explained to the foreign diplomats that they were not fighting to defend the Ottoman Empire, but to defend the interests of the Albanian people. In this declaration, the previous demands for an Albanian vilayet within the Ottoman Empire were replaced with demands for an independent Albanian state.
As a result of the demands stated in Skopje an assembly was held in Valona, in which representatives of all the territories inhabited by Albanians participated. An independent Albanian state was declared at the assembly and a government was formed, which represented all Albanians at an international level.
The London Conference and the consequences for the Albanian people
The declaration of an Albanian independent state at the Valona Assembly occurred under very complicated international conditions and highly contradictory positions of the great powers regarding the Balkan situation. This made the great powers pay particular attention the Albanian issue at a conference held in London in 1912-1913. At this conference a special international committee was formed, and in 1913, as the result of its work, the existence of an independent Albanian state was recognized.
The Albanian state, as recognized by the London Conference, did not get the north-eastern and southern territories inhabited by Albanians. This decision was a compromise in order to prevent worsening relations between the great powers themselves. This decision largely satisfied the pretensions of the other Balkan countries but did not consider the national interests of the Albanian people to create an ethnic state, as previously expressed at the Valona Assembly.
The decisions from the London conference greatly displeased the Albanian people living on the territories that became a part of Serbia, Montenegro and Greece.
THE ALBANIANS DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR
The occupation of territories inhabited by Albanians by the Central Powers and the Entente
The beginning of the First World War found the Albanians without their own central government. Up to that time, Albania was governed by the German prince Wilhelm of Wied, while Kosovo and other areas inhabited by Albanians were under Serbian, Montenegrin and Greek governance. Without a coordination centre the Albanian people were in chaos and Albania did not emerge as an equal in the game for territories.
The Albanians became an object of division and bartering which the Great Powers offered to the Balkan states for the expansion of their territories. From autumn 1914 to the beginning of 1916 the Serbs occupied northern and middle Albania to the river Shkumbin; the Montenegrins occupied Skadar; the Greeks went further into the southern areas and the Italians had Valona and its surroundings. In these areas the economy was completely destroyed, many Albanian intellectuals were murdered and a large number of Albanians (around 300,000) were forced to immigrate to Turkey. In the following two years the territory of Albania was turned into a battlefield and was conquered and divided on several occasions between the Austro-Hungarians, Italians, Bulgarians and Greeks. The front line between the warring factions was approximately along the line Valona-Berat-Pogradec.
The Albanian resistance during the First World War
Even during the start of the occupation of Albania, resistance became to form as well as armed groups and national committees. The federation “Vatra” was created in the USA, which united all the committees. The committees came out with a common programme which demanded the independence of Albania and a reconsideration of the borders of the Albanian state from 1913, as they did not include all areas with Albanian population.
In 1917 in Korca, which was under French rule, and in the areas under Austro-Hungarian rule autonomies were declared. In 1917, the Italians declared “independent Albania” under the protection of Italy. In these autonomous areas the Albanians had the right to self-administration, developing their national culture, use of the Albanian language and Albanian schools. This enabled further development and growth of the national awareness of the Albanian people.
In the Bulgarian occupational zone the situation was much more difficult. Many intellectuals were arrested, a forced draft was implemented for men capable of going to war, and the army took food and cattle from the populace for its own needs.
At the end of the First World War Albania saw its land divided between several countries. Most of its territory stayed under Italian occupation. The areas around Korca and Podgradec remained under French rule, while the Serbian forces, with the help of the French military, took over Kosovo and other Albanian areas and went into Northern Albania. The country was economically destroyed, and much of the population fell victim to conflict, hunger and epidemics.
The Albanian intellectuals, within and outside the country, were attempting to prevent the division of Albania and secure its independence. The Albanian political groups managed to unite and form a common government, which was supposed to represent the Albanian people and protect its interests at the peace conference planned in Paris.
The Paris Peace Conference and the Albanians (1919-1920)
The First World War ended with the Peace Conference in Paris. The Albanians hoped that their problems would be justly solved at the conference, however the winning countries had their own interests in Albania. Italy demanded Valona and a protectorate over the “Albanian autonomous state” which was meant to be in Middle Albania, while Greece wanted Korca and Girokastro. The representatives of the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia (SCS) sided with an independent Albania with its 1913 borders, but considered that if any country had a right to occupy or have a protectorate in Albania, then the Kingdom of SCS should also receive a part.
These were the conditions under which the delegation of the Albanian government went to Paris and offered two memorandums. With the first memorandum they demanded that the decisions of the Congress of Berlin and the London Conference regarding the Albanian territories that remained outside Albania be corrected. When the first memorandum was not adopted, they submitted a second memorandum which asked for the USA to administer the territories that remained outside the 1913 borders. Even though the Albanian issue was discussed at the peace Conference, the Albanian demands were not considered.
At the Paris Peace Conference Albania was recognized as an independent state with its 1913 borders, which coincide with its borders today. This did not prevent Italy from continuing to hold Valona and its surroundings until the Albanian revolution of 1920 forced the Italian forces to withdraw from Albania.
The Albanians that found themselves outside the borders of Albania (within the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia and Greece) continued their resistance, dissatisfied with the government that ruled them, until they were suppressed.